Rose ready to return in New York soap opera


Apr 7

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The Longacre Theater on Broadway is featuring the show Magic/Bird as basketball comes to the Great White Way. Though with the Magic/Bird presentation, perhaps Great Black & White Way is more appropriate.

Anyway, as usual, the biggest basketball drama and show still is at Madison Square Garden, where the Bulls will be at noon Sunday to face the New York Knicks, who currently line up as the Bulls’ first round playoff opponent in three weeks.

The big news for the Bulls is the likely return of Derrick Rose after missing almost a month and 12 games with a groin injury.

“My groin’s not bothering me,” Rose told reporters after practice Saturday morning. “I’m happy to move on. Practicing with the guys felt good out there and hopefully I’ll be playing Sunday.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau still calls Rose a game-time decision—no sense giving the enemy a heads up—and indicated minutes would be limited. Bulls management also has been cautious with Rose and urging him not to move too quickly with such a sensitive injury.

But Rose, though showing mostly a mask of indifference at games, has been personally tortured about being out so long. He’s felt he’s been letting down his teammates and though not quite articulating that, he’s felt somewhat embarrassed. As a result, some teammates feel he’s withdrawn a bit, seemingly out of a personal guilt. Of course, no one on the team blames Rose. But he continues to remain a harsh personal critic.

“If I’m feeling good, I’m going to play,” said Rose. “More than likely I’ll be out there. It’s been hard (being out).”

Rose finally has been scrimmaging with the team, though not quite going full Dragic, meaning we’re not likely to see him dunking over anyone for the time being.

Which is fine as the prime goal for the Bulls these last 10 games is to finally develop cohesion with the starting group that was anticipated for this season with Richard Hamilton. There’s also the matter of home court advantage in the Eastern Conference, which got a bit more probable Friday night when Miami lost at home to Memphis. The Bulls have a three game lead over Miami with two games remaining between the teams, both TNT national games the next two Thursdays with the first one in the United Center.

A split would pretty much wrap up home court advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Less certain is that first round opponent, even though the Knicks have held eighth most of the season. The Bucks are closing and before Saturday night just a game behind in ninth. Plus, the 76ers have been collapsing and only a game and one half ahead in seventh. The Magic, the league’s current comedy club, is in sixth and four games ahead of the Knicks. Though the way Dwight Howard gave up in Friday’s loss to the Knicks after coach Stan Van Gundy revealed he knows Howard asked for him to be fired, it remains possible the Magic could still close with a lot of losses.

So it’s not quite yet on Sunday a playoff preview for the Bulls as they’ll also see the Knicks in the United Center Tuesday. And the Knicks then play the Bucks Wednesday, so it’s a big potential positioning week for them.

But mostly it’s wonderful theater as usual with the Knicks.

Can they surprise the Bulls?

It would seem unlikely. Shooting star Jeremy Lin is now sideLINed for the regular season after knee surgery. Lin has talked about returning for the first round, though the Knicks talk about the second round, obviously, if possible. Amar’e Stoudemire with serious back problems is out. He could return in a week or so. But it’s difficult to say how much he could do and whet level of play he might be at.

The Knicks, though, are expecting injured Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker back for Sunday’s game.

Which leaves Carmelo Anthony, who got his coach, Mike D’Antoni, to run screaming for relief in resigning last month. As a result, Anthony has straightened out some and even admitted he now was ready to play defense.

Although they gave up 40 points to the Pacers—who just beat Oklahoma City—in the fourth quarter in a loss last week, the Knicks have been a more serious and stingy team under interim coach Mike Woodson. They are 10-3 with Woodson and have given up fewer than 90 points in eight of those games.

Baron Davis has taken over at point guard, though on the injury report for him they generally note what does not hurt. Oak Park’s Iman Shumpert joins him in the backcourt, so with Rose back the Bulls should have a big edge.

The issue will be Anthony, who has been playing power forward in a smaller lineup for the Knicks. Anthony, for all his issues, may be the most gifted one on one scorer in the NBA. The Bulls, of course, have a size edge, though Tyson Chandler has played exceptionally well of late winning battles with All-Star centers Roy Hibbert and Howard in the last week. The Knicks are pushing Chandler for Defensive Player of the Year. So Chandler will offset Joakim Noah.

That leaves a potentially difficult matchup as Carlos Boozer is not likely to handle Anthony. The Bulls usually play Luol Deng, their best defender, against Anthony. Which leaves the Bulls in position to down size, though that could negate their edge in size. Landry Fields plays small forward for the Knicks. So it does invite some potentially interesting matchup issues.

One of which also is J.R. Smith, who, predictably, melted down some with a flagrant foul ejection last week and lecture from Woodson. Smith has shot poorly since returning from China to join the Knicks, but has gotten hot and had some big games as the Bulls have had difficulty controlling his athletic game.

Though there’s always more to what’s going on with the Knicks, and the latest is the coaching situation. Woodson, obviously, has done well. But with a seventh or eighth place finish and playoff opener against the Bulls or Heat that could make for a quick playoff departure.

So said to be lurking, according to the New York Daily News, is John Calipari after winning the NCAA title with Kentucky. Calipari denied any interest in the Knicks or the NBA, though few believe him after finally winning the title.

And Calipari has strong connections to the Knicks.

He is close with the Creative Artists agency, which represents Anthony. The Knicks supposedly brought in Smith, over the objections of both general manager Glen Grunwald and D’Antoni to please the agency and Anthony. And now Isiah Thomas is without a job after being fired by Florida International. He is close with Knicks owner Jim Dolan and said to have been influential with Anthony in his decision to pursue the Knicks for a trade.

Of course, this sort of stuff always swirls around the Knicks, whose management rarely communicates with reporters who follow the team. So it’s never quite clear what is actually occurring. But it generally makes for an entertaining and ongoing story.

The Bulls get to be part of the latest act Sunday and perhaps around for the curtain in a few weeks as well.

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